This was a glorious day for lovers of the string quartet. Six almost world class ensembles gave distinctly different performances of some I’d the finest literature for the medium in possibly the best hall in the world. Each group rose to the occasion and the audiences met the performers more than halfway, as indeed they should in the spirit of what is that unique combination of spiritual and festive reverence. At no point were the two concert experiences marred or influenced by the panel of competition jurors who were effectively sequestered away in the balcony.

The afternoon combination of Romanian US and Swiss quartets was the longer of the two since it incorporated two performances of Beethoven’s op. 59/2 as well as the op. 132. The evening’s line up included the third op. 59/2 of the day but also two of the somewhat shorter quartets, the op. 74 “Harp” and Beethoven’s final complete quartet, the op. 135.. They were performed in that sequence exactly by the Polish, the British and the 2nd of the two US semi-finalists.

It seems an inescapable fact to me that some of Beethoven’s middle and late quartets are simply more crowd-pleasers than others. It’s a harsh reality that the Harp quartet is simply “front loaded” with a firecracker first movement. The remaining three, as compelling as they are in their own right and even taken as a whole in context, cannot make or leave the overwhelmingly dazzling impression of either the 2nd Razumovsky or opus 132. That said, and even with the discount of an experienced professional’s discerning and charitable insight, we heard some overwhelmingly persuasive accounts of 132 and one 59/2 in particular that seemed to me to overshadow the other performances.

In ranking the six quartets based on the performances of Beethoven tonight only, for me the biggest challenge would be in placing the third to go forward to tomorrow’s finals. The first two were clear winners and neck and neck at that! In fact however, the jury are able to bring their scoring and ranking from the previous two performances in the preliminary rounds to bear on the outcome. Their decision to advance the Quartets was surely well and fairly reasoned and for me, there could be no quibbles. So according to the outcome, tomorrow’s program will include the Brahms, Debussy, Mendelssohn op. 13, op. 44/2, op. 80, Ravel, Schubert A minor D minor and Schumann op. 41/3 quartets

— Sandy, March 31, 2012

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